a   s l i g h t   r e s e m b l a n c e   t o   m a r l o n   b r a n d o

He gets the egg from a client a month after the campaign goes multinational.

“What happened to fucking lighters, or blowjobs?” Brian asks, watching as Justin spins the egg in slow concentric circles, his pale hands white against the charcoal of the shell. “I’m giving it to Debbie for Christmas.”

“I like it,” Justin says. “It’s weird.” He lifts it up and shakes it, listening for any signs of life. “It would be cool if it hatched.”

“Great, then I’ll have a fucking Emu on my hardwood floors.”

“Maybe it’s an alligator,” Justin says. He rests his chin on his folded arms and watches as the egg slowly rolls to a stop. “That’d be really cool. Like that movie.”

Brian drops into the chair next to Justin’s and picks up the egg. It is smooth and warm, rougher than he’d expected. Heavier. Pedsley’s delivery boy had said it would bring Brian good luck, or some shit like that. Brian isn’t even sure it is real. He’s always thought Pedsley to be remarkably full of shit, even if the man is shelling out millions of dollars a year for Brian’s services. The commission alone was gift enough for Brian. Handing over mysterious trinkets is unnecessary.

Still, looking at it kind of creeps Brian out. A dead thing in his palm.

He puts the egg in a drawer. “I’m giving this to Debbie,” he says. “Don’t give me any shit.”

Justin smiles indulgently and lets Brian fuck his brains out.

--

Two days later it shows up on Justin’s desk, a paperweight against the hefty pile of Justin’s mysterious bills. That little shit.

--

Brian is at work on Thursday when Justin calls his cell.

“Brian,” he says. “You didn’t happen to slip something in my juice, did you? To be funny. Because it isn’t funny.”

When Justin stops speaking, Brian can hear his teeth grinding down the line.

“Like what, my cum?”

“E! Acid! I don’t fucking know, Brian!”

“You think I drugged you?” Brian is incredulous, and he imagines himself staring open mouthed at nothing. “What the fuck for?”

“Brian,” Justin says. The tension in his voice reminds Brian of those early days after the bashing, when Justin would call him from the loft freaking out at shadows. “I – Never mind. I’ll talk to you later.”

--

When Brian arrives at the loft forty minutes later, there is a tiny winged reptile staring at him from the back of the sofa.

Justin stares blankly at Brian, who is frozen in the doorway hearing the buzzing of fifteen years’ worth of acid trips in his ears.

“Is that a fucking dragon?” Brian asks at length.

“Oh my god, you see it too?!” Justin scrubs his hands over his face. “I thought I was going nuts or something. I was trying to figure out how to break it to you.”

“Did it follow you home from school?” Brian walks slowly into the loft and drops his briefcase and coat by the door. He stands next to Justin and they stare at the dragon.

“It was here when I got home. I think it came from the egg.” It opens its mouth and flames lick the air around its face. “Brian, your client gave you a dragon.”

It is all sharp angles like horns beneath its skin. Blue black flesh like a bruise, mottled over tiny ribs and vertebrae. It sneezes and sparks crackle in the air, fading to the smell of fire and brimstone. At Brian’s side, Justin recoils.

“Should we call animal control?” Justin asks.

“And say what, a dragon followed me home from school today?”

“Maybe if we leave the window open, it’ll fly away.”

They stare at it. It hisses flames and flexes its little wings.

They leave the window open.

--

After two weeks, Brian closes the window. Justin is unimpressed by Brian’s protests about burglars and the shifting weather, and scowls angrily at that little fucking dragon, curled up in Brian’s sheets.

Brian named him Marlon, and he’s now the size of Justin’s fist. He makes weird sounds in the middle of the night and eats all the fucking tuna. Tuesday morning, Justin woke to scorch marks on his sneakers, the soles melted a little into his crumpled jeans.

“Forget it,” Brian had said. “Those jeans were fucking ugly anyway.”

It’s easy for him to say. Marlon doesn’t go near Brian’s Gucci boots, his Prada loafers. Justin loses three pairs of sneakers by Monday.

--

Brian hasn’t ever had a pet, Justin supposes. It’s forgivable that Brian has somehow formed an attachment to the little fucking beast, scratching behind its horns while he watches CNN, feeding it bits and pieces off his plate at the dinner table. And it is kind of cute, when it’s not barbequing Justin’s Chuck Taylor’s. Sort of. He decides to leave it be for a few more weeks. It’s unlikely that Brian’s affection will wane, but if Justin leaves it long enough Brian might freak out and decide Marlon is better off without him.

It seems like a good plan until Justin comes home from Daphne’s just before dawn on Thursday and Marlon is curled up on his pillow.

“Brian,” Justin whispers. Marlon lifts his head and blinks sleepily at Justin, but Brian does not stir.

Brian,” Justin repeats, more insistently. He lifts his hand to touch Brian’s shoulder, but Marlon hisses, his little flames glowing white hot in the dark.

Justin and Marlon stare at one another for a long moment.

Justin sleeps on the couch.

--

“What the fuck are you doing out here?” Brian asks in the morning, already immaculate in his favourite suit. He’s got some big pitch today, Justin thinks. Some potentially hot new music company. Justin has stitch marks from the sofa on his face and aching muscles from the cold.

“Your dinosaur hates me,” he says. He eyes the little beast, hovering by Brian’s shoulder. Justin’s not sure when he learned to fly. He wonders if he’d have more luck now, opening the window.

“That’s ridiculous,” Brian says. “He’s an animal, he likes everyone.”

When Mikey came over last week, Marlon lay on his back while Mikey scratched his belly, purred and preened like a cat. When Justin got home twenty minutes before that, Marlon set fire to the magazine rack.

“He doesn’t just dislike me, he breathes fire every time he sees my face. If you had a fucking bird like a normal person, I wouldn’t even notice.”

“Maybe if you had a better attitude, Marlon wouldn’t resent you so much.”

Justin glowers.

“Fine,” he says finally. He flops back on the sofa, feeling the slide of silk cushions against his face. “But could you take him with you to work? I’d like to take a nap without fearing for my life.”

Brian scowls as he puts Marlon in his pocket, but kisses Justin goodbye.

--

When the fluid in his Zippo runs out, Brian takes to using Marlon to light his cigarettes, and that’s when Justin knows he’s never getting rid of him. He watches Brian, stretched out on the couch in jeans and no shirt, cigarette clamped between his lips. Brian’s long fingers stroke Marlon’s belly, coaxing flickers of heat from between the dragon’s teeth.

“I don’t know what you’re queening out about,” Brian says. “Marlon is the most useful member of this household.”

Justin thinks of the coffee he made this morning, the sheets he washed because the cleaning ladies keep quitting since Marlon came around. Useful. Fuck you, Brian.

Justin sits on the other end of the sofa, where Marlon’s acid breath can’t singe the hairs on his arms.

--

“Brian says you’re jealous of Marlon,” Michael says in that concerned tone he’s been adopting since he became a father and, consequently, the wisest man on Earth. “He thinks it might become a problem.”

“I’m not jealous of Spyro,” Justin replies, stomping over to the donuts Michael hides behind the counter. “And it’s already a problem. I feel like we haven’t fucked in months.”

“How long has it been?” Michael asks sympathetically. That’s his other new voice, but he only seems to use it on Justin.

“About twenty seven hours.”

“That must be hell for you,” Michael says, rolling his eyes.

“That’d explain all the fire.”

--

When Marlon is four weeks old, he finally torches some of Brian’s stuff. Two brand new floral shirts, completely beyond repair. Justin is secretly thrilled; those shirts really were fucking ugly. Marlon seems to think so too. He sits staring at Justin amid the smoke, a brief moment of understanding. Their gazes fall simultaneously on the third new horrendous black and pink shirt, and Justin nods slowly and walks away.

Later, he cleans up the pile of ashes and throws them out with the day’s paper. A week later when Brian is looking for the shirts, Justin will insist he’s got no clue where they went.

This is how he bonds with Marlon.

--

After that it’s a bit easier. Marlon seems less inclined to setting Justin’s food on fire now that he’s keeping the little beast’s secrets. Marlon burns Brian’s ugly new jacket and torches the terrifying new lamp, and Justin hides the remains, lies to Brian.

Brian probably knows, but there’s not much Marlon can’t get away with.

--

Justin wonders what will happen when Marlon gets too big to fit in Brian’s pocket, too big to fit inside the loft. Not that he knows how big a full grown dragon really is, but the mythology generally seems to indicate it’ll be fucking huge. He tries not to think about it too much, the long film noir nights of angsty contemplation that will ensue when Brian is forced to turn Marlon out into the wild.

Brian on the sofa, tumbler of whiskey, the lights down low. An endless pack of cigarettes.

Justin doesn’t think about it. Instead, he makes salad for dinner and watches the news with Brian. Marlon unravels Justin’s old woolen sweater on the floor, sharp claws unpicking, stretching, releasing. Old black yarn twists over his horns.

Justin ignores him, and eats his olives.

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